Friday, August 19, 2016

It's about the athletes...

Focusing on the athletes  and their personal stories has been a good distraction from the negative problems at the Rio Olympics. According to the morning briefings, my prediction about security inside the venues being under control has proven to be true, while the city outside is rife with crime, violence and logistical problems.

If you are following the coverage, there are two interesting things to note on your TV screen. First, except for the star gold medal finals, you only see the stands about one-third full. As in other Olympics, this is a result of the blocks of tickets granted to sponsors and partners that, for a variety of reasons, go unused. The other thing is the absence of people on the street and the beach.  Security makes the difference here with over 30,000 of the 65,000 contract guards at work, just outside the venues. There are times when there are more security personnel than spectators or tourists.

Because of the tight protection around the athletes, this has been a great competition for them. Logistics have been the only problems here. Accommodations have been unfinished. Running water has been missing in certain instances. Toilets don't flush and locks don't work on doors. Transportation to the venues has been difficult at times and there was at least one report of a bus being shot at.

Rio was simply not ready for this; Financially, politically, logistically and safety-wise, these Games have been a very difficult undertaking. However, bringing home the Gold made the spectacle better for us, the viewing public. NBC's positive coverage made it more exciting. Still there was a pall over the Games. Holding your breath for something bad to happen.

I'm happy to say, with only the closing ceremonies to go, we seem to have survived any major problems that were visible.  The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat happened on the field...and there were moments of each.

Doing my job from a distance was the right decision. I thought long and hard about it but my job is not being a spectator. It's wading into the deep water and finding the source of the real problems behnd the scenes. There will be another Olympic Games and whether I'm there or not, my experience and expertise can still be useful. I'll send you another note after our final wrap-up briefing next week. Let's hope it's a good one.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Rio will not be a safe place to be for the Olympics

The date was decided years ago. It is just a coincidence that the Olympics are being held in Rio this fall. It's spring in the southern hemisphere and the weather can be quite warm and beautiful. Opening Ceremonies begin next week and the games will take up most of August.

I have written about my concerns for the safety of the spectators and athletes. Unfortunately, those concerns seem to be proving true. I've been fortunate to get to know some members of the World Champion National Women's Soccer Team and many of them are worried about possible health problems from Zika to giardia in the water supply. We had long discussions and there are options but no fool-proof solutions.

Again, I've been asked to lend my expertise to the potential crisis problems along with sponsorship and international news media relations. My previous trips to Rio are what make me hesitate to be on the scene. Jane certainly doesn't want any part of it from previous experience. I, on the other hand, much prefer to be there in person. That's the dilemma and I've put it off until the last minute..

Even with an estimated  80,000 security personnel on hand, it is still going to be difficult to control the situation. I think the venues will be the safest place to be (discounting the pickpockets who you  can't avoid) because that is where security will have to be concentrated. It's the city surrounding the venues that  worries me most. Even moving from a hotel to a venue opens the door for problems.

To add to all the known difficulties,the world was a different place when Rio won the bid. Terrorism is rampant now and very unpredictable. Statistics show that almost 250 adults and children have been killed in terror attacks in the past two weeks. No country is immune. Attacks in 8 cities in 6 countries make that quite clear.

Things are going to be tough in Rio. Infrastructure is not ready. Health concerns will not go away. Crime will increase. Security is not fully prepared. Nothing would make me happier than to be wrong about this. If everything goes well, I'll take the heat for crying "Wolf".

That said, I think we'll be faced with a crisis a day...some easy to handle but others of major consequence. I've been dealing with crises since I started by professional career. And I can attest to the fact that a crisis a day takes it out of you. I like going home at night, even to take the 2am calls. I like decompressing with Jane and sleeping in my own bed.

Working remotely gives me live streaming access to every venue and Skype makes our daily briefings tolerable. I would still  prefer to be in the fire but I will not be going to Rio. I want to be fresh to face what will be coming at us. I feel a special connection  to the US Women's Soccer Team and I want them all to be safe, The athletes and competition are definitely where my commitment is. The politics, partnerships and business relationships do not concern me (although getting caught up in them sometimes is impossible to avoid.)

If you go to  Rio, be careful and take care. Unless you've got an athlete in the Games, that big screen is going to be the best and safest way to see the Rio Olympics. I'll give you the inside information that I can share as things progress and hope for the best. Here's to the athletes.

Friday, May 20, 2016


Some of my best friends are Millennials. But haven't we heard enough about their generation? Enough about what they eat and drive? Enough about who they like to sit next to at the office; how often they change jobs and how independent they are?.

Granted they're moving into the workforce in large numbers but this is far from the first generational transition we've witnessed. If the boomers and the Xers had the social media to tout their influence on the marketplace, the story would have been much the same.

Technology is the biggest change we're facing and all of us who are working are having to deal with it. And, as with any change, you either embrace it or watch it pass you by.  It's your choice. The Millennials are not making it happen. They have just grown up with it and are living with it every day. Researchers are already predicting the next evolution of Facebook and Twitter, which will be new to all of us in the same way.

Like every generation, Millennials have their music, their recreation, their jokes, their television shows and superstars. But none of that is new. Only the names are different than the past. The intervention of media is the cause of much of this chatter. They are feeding us on a strict Millennial diet, day in and day out. Consultants are said to be charging $20,000 a day to school major companies about employing Millennials. I'd like some of that action.

Don't get me wrong. These are smart, talented young people, who have had a very tough row to hoe through school and out into the working world. But to some degree every generation has had to face these challenges. And don't forget that Gen Z, born after the turn of the century, is already into high school and will soon be meeting the Millennials on their own turf.

I work with Millennials every day and many of them are students in the college classes I teach. It's not the generation that is unique. It's the individuals. That's where you see the bright spots. Take away the tablets and the smartphones and we're all much the same. This is the first digital generation and we can learn from them but we're teaching each other...and that's good. We all have our strengths.

Gen Z will be known as the Reality TV generation. The Kardashians showed up just about the time these kids were starting primary school. When asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, the answer was "famous". There's a sad quirk for you.

Millennials have run their course.  They're settling into their 30's. The playing field is leveling out. Let's not be more concerned about who they are than we are about who they are going to be. They are co-workers, parents and friends. Let's get comfortable with our next door neighbors and not get hung up about why  they like a good craft brew rather than a properly aged wine or that they are close friends with Rachel and Chandler.

When is the last time someone introduced themselves to you by saying, "Hi, I'm Jim and I'm a Millennial."? Enough with these labels.  Let's just move on. There are much more important issues facing us.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Blame it on Rio...

It's that time. On Friday, August 5, we begin the summer games of the 31st Olympiad. Rio de Janeiro will be the host and there's going to be trouble. I've worked on large scale events in Rio and many of its problems are insurmountable.

This will mark my 14th Olympiad, Summer and Winter, and I've seen the games from every angle, inside and out, top to bottom.  I've worked with the local organizing committees, the International Olympic Committee, local governments, sponsors and the athletes themselves.

No event has a longer history than the Olympics. They began more than seven centuries BC. The modern games got their start in 1896. Olympiad is the Greek word for the four year period between games. That's what makes this the 31st Olympiad.

Now that the brief history lesson is over, why is there going to be trouble in Rio? The main reason is that there is always trouble in Rio. Crime and violence pervade the city. The beaches and Carnival drown out the realities of what goes on in the city day in and day out.

One of our round-the-world sailing events had a stopover in Rio and we barely escaped with our lives. Boats were burned. Goods were stolen. Men were attacked and women were physically abused. The only response we could get from local law enforcement was that they were sorry and they would watch our compound more closely.

These problems were not politically motivated or terrorism related. They were purely uncontrolled lawbreaking delinquency. Jane has vowed she will never return.  She was frightened just to be on the streets. All of us stayed very close to "home".

Today, when you add in the political unrest going on with the ouster of the president coupled with the worldwide fear of terrorist activity and the Zika virus, it is very hard to believe that we will make it through the games without incident.

Jane and I spent time at the Beijing Olympics with the delegation from Rio who were there for planning meetings.  We shared with them our concerns about their city hosting the games.and their response was that the crime problems were not going to go away. Their only hope was that the athletes and the competition could be isolated with extreme security measures being taken wherever the games touched the city.

It's sad to me to think that the athletes from around the world will be penned up and led by security officials everywhere they go. Security for spectators will be no less scrutinized. The Sochi Olympics were controlled in a similar fashion but there was a war going on. Even the ever-present social unrest in China was less of a concern than what's about to happen in Brasil.

The Olympics began as a people's event among friendly countries. But increasingly, it's politics, warring factions and money that dictate the outcome of the games, instead of the competition on the field. My role will again be to help local organizers with sponsorship, international media relations and crisis communications.

Rio is a beautiful city and the vast majority of its citizens are welcoming to visitors. However, television may well be our first and safest avenue for watching the events. I hope for the best at the 31st Olympiad. But I am prepared for the worst.  Here's hoping.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

For the people of Belgium

Belgium is a quiet place. The word tranquility fits. On our first trip to Europe, I took Jane to Flanders where the famous World War I cemetery was located. It was a beautiful place to spend eternity and we've gone back to that stunning area many times.

Today's horrific terrorist attack  struck deep in the hearts of Belgians and their global partners. Most Belgians speak some English and I heard one Brussels resident fight the tears back when asked if he was afraid. "I'm not afraid of death. I could get hit by a car," he said. "But I am afraid of being killed by a terrorist for no other reason than to frighten those around me."

Even President Obama has said several times now, there is little we can do to stop someone who is willing to give up their own life for a radical cause. Today's attack was planned. It appears to have been practiced. The locations of the terrorists were selected specifically for maximum impact. A small consolation is that for some reason they only fired a few rounds from their automatic rifles before detonating their suicide belts and suitcase bombs full of nails and bolts. Even more people would have died or been shot if the guns had continued firing.

My military father always told me that knowing your enemy was a major step in ending a conflict. Radical Extremist, however, by definition, does not lend itself to reasonable and rational thought or dialogue. Belgium is quiet for a different reason today. It's sorrow that is in their hearts and ours. A country that most of us only know for its delicious chocolate has sadly become a target of villainous violence. We Americans don't know it as well as we do Paris. It is unlikely we will see the outpouring of goodwill for Belgium that we saw after the Paris attacks. Not out of lack of concern but out of lack of education.I truly hope that will not be the case.

Jane and I were there not long ago and our hearts go out to all its citizens. They were kind, welcoming and engaging people and we feel their loss.  For the home of Michael Angelo's only piece of art outside Italy, the Madonna and Child, that found a place there, our wish is that peace and tranquility will return quickly.

Our world has changed. We are only one step away from being screened in EVERY public place.If it comes that, we should do it, but do not let the terrorists steal our lives from us.. If you see something, say something is pretty good motto. Be aware. But by all means, enjoy a piece of Belgian chocolate and, like Jane I did, take your time eating that waffle in the street cafe and looking at the scenery. As the good Mr. Gump's mama always said, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get." So embrace life and those you love. We will win this war.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Riverdance Discovered

This is a St. Patrick's Day story about bringing the heritage of the homeland for those of us of Irish descent to the rest of the world (I haven't checked my DNA with, but I knew both my great grandfathers and I just know.) It was the 90's and we were all flying high. I have to say it. They were the Clinton years. Ireland still had the "troubles" but things were getting better.  And then just before St. Patrick's Day, an exciting import hit the shores of the US. Riverdance came to Radio City Music Hall and took the country by storm.

Riverdance began as a 7-minute performance at a music festival in Dublin that turned into a full length show touring the world to great acclaim. The lead dancers in the original short number were Jean Butler, also the the choreographer, and her friend and long time dance partner Colin Dunne.

By the time the show had expanded to two hours, Michael Flatley was named lead dancer, partnering with Jean Butler.  The water gets murky here as Flatley was only with the show for a little less than a year.  He left over creative differences to dance with his own company and Dunne rejoined the group for its triumphant tour to Radio City Music Hall with Butler still choreographing and taking the female lead.

That brings us to the month of March and St. Pattrick's Day in New York City. As the song goes "It was 20 years ago today..." when Riverdance hit the Big Apple and I was making regular trips there to the DDB headquarters for board meetings. Most of my business meetings were too quick to take Jane so I was left with a lot of open evenings.

On this particular cold March night, I was looking for a good movie as I strolled by Radio City. All of a sudden, a man raced out the side door of the theater to jump into a limo. "I've got to catch a plane. Want to see the show?" he asks me. "Sure," I said, not even knowing what I was about to see.

The theater was packed and when I looked at the ticket the man had given me, it was 5th row center and the performance was...Riverdance, There's the luck of the Irish for you...or, in this case,, for me.

The show was astounding. The music alone was worth the trip. The audience was on their feet for almost the entire show. It's become a standard and a part of Irish folklore. Everyone has tried their hand, or foot, at Step Dancing and the music has sold millions of copies the world over.

Jane will tell you that I can stand at a stage door to a fault and that evening, with nothing else to do, I stood and waited...and waited.

When Jean Butler finally came out, we engaged pretty quickly. I'm fascinated with choreographers Her mother is from County Mayo and Jean, as it t;urns out, is quite a talker.   I told her I was from Seattle and that this show would be such a hit there. She said they had just laid out a tour that would come here within the year. She loves Seattle and had traveled here many times. I told her my Irish had to offer any assistance that would help on their visit. She was grateful for the offer. We sat and  talked for quite a while about theater. I told her I was on the board of the 5th Avenue and she wanted details...lots of details. It was getting late. She gave me her email and cell number and vowed to keep in touch. Which she did and still does. What a delightful young woman. She now isn't doing much dancing but designing interesting jewelry that's sold across Ireland and the US..

Jean sent me an exploding shamrock email for St. Patrick's Day that year. It turned into a pot of gold. We emailed more and, when the tour came here, Jane and I not only got the royal backstage treatment but we sat in the orchestra...I mean literally IN the orchestra. We've seen the show many times now. Most exciting was at its UK home theater in Hammersmith. It's  always a delight..

I know that on St. Patrick's Day everyone says they are Irish but every once in awhile it pays to really BE Irish. So wherever you're from, enjoy your Guiness and lamb stew with some soda bread. Try a little Step Dancing. It's a great workout and fun too. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Losing a good friend is never easy...

There is a more esteemed position that supersedes friend and mentor.  If it was a relative, you'd probably call it father, but when it's not, it is a person who makes your life whole, gives you support and opens doors that you didn't even know were there. John Iverson was such a person and his sudden passing leaves a huge void in the hearts of all who knew him well.

John was a true Seattle native, born here of immigrant parents, graduated from Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington, joined a prestigious local law firm and embedded himself into the community, eventually becoming president of Downtown Rotary, the world's largest Rotary Club...or so he told me, every time he would ask me to join.

When I first touched ground in Seattle in the 1960's, I felt like a pioneer.  The city was still relishing the surge of power it experienced from the World's Fair. It was discovering itself all over.again. Except for living in DC and meeting ;Jane there while I was in college, I had never lived anywhere longer than a year throughout my father's career as an army officer. Our college friends thought I'd lost my mind picking up stakes and moving to the edge of the earth and Jane wasn't too sure about me either.

By the 70's,our beachhead was at K2 Skis and JanSport backpacks. They were home plate for us. Gordon Bowker, who with his talented partner Terry Heckler, was behind the award-winning Rainier Beer, K2 and JanSport ads, introduced me to the intricacies of Seattle marketing, He  had not yet been to Italy to discover the benefits of whole bean coffee which later inspired him to open a coffee shop called Starbucks; Bill Gates was just getting ready for high school and Eddie Vedder was excited about starting kindergarten. My contacts were few and far between...until Indiana/DC friend Bill Ruckelshaus pointed us to Jean Ehrlichman, on the way back from DC herself. Jean was involved with the opera which was starting a new ballet company and the president of the ballet board was a young lawyer named John Iverson.

John knocked down the walls of provincialism for us. There was no pretense with John. Keep it straight and true and he was behind whatever we did.  Thanks to John, Jane worked her way onto the Pacific Northwest Ballet board as a trusted advisor. He opened the door to Seattle Center and the new Kingdome for me and soon after I was working with the front offices of the Mariners, Sonics and Seahawks. John eventually honored us with the moniker "semi-local" of which we continue to be very proud.

He was a friend to all..  As odd as it seemed (until you heard him sing) he was a music major in his undergrad days. In fact, his beautiful tenor voice had him singing all over town professionally and paying his way through law school. One of my favorite memories is from a weekend barbeque on Whidbey Island when I told John that my mother named me Daniel because she loved the song Danny Boy. His acapella version outside in the fresh salt air with the sun going down still brings a tear to my eye.

Whether it was taking a picnic lunch and hiking to Ebey's Landing, eating waffles at the county fair, making us orphans with no family nearby feel at home on Thanksgiving, putting up with my tippy-toe jokes during the ballet (he always had the seat right in front of me) or shaking up one of the best Manhattans that Jane has ever had, John loved life...all of it.

I'm not alone in these thoughts and memories. John had more friends than most of us can find...even on facebook. And I mean real friends. There is a difference, you know. His family was his pride and joy though. His amazing wife Marli and sons Jans and Dane feel the loss more than any of us can imagine. Our hearts go out to them.

For a couple of young pioneers from the east coast like Jane and me, meeting up with John Iverson was like seeing Chief Sealth beckoning us to the shore. Everyone should be so lucky when they make a life-changing move. After a decades-long relationship,friend and mentor he was but that's not enough. John Iverson was all that is good about the Pacific Northwest. A prince of a man. Rest in peace, John. You'll always be in our hearts.